Nicholae Ceausescu was a psychopath

"It was psychological terror and people were so sick of it"

Jochen Spengler: This morning we look back again to the year 1989. It was a really breathtaking year that gradually came to an end 20 years ago. The Eastern Bloc is dissolving, people are successfully defending themselves against decades of oppression, in the Baltic States, in Poland, in Hungary, in Czechoslovakia, which was still called that at that time, and in the GDR, too, Honecker has long since resigned and the wall is open. Only in Romania, where the need is particularly great, does little seem to be going on at first, and then there was an uprising in Timişoara on December 16, which the regime brutally suppressed. A few days later, on December 21, President Ceausescu spoke to 100,000 people in the center of the capital Bucharest. The television images that show jubilation at the beginning and then how the dictator struggling for his constitution is booed are unforgettable.

One day later, 20 years ago today, Ceausescu and his wife Elena flee. They are caught and executed by officers on Christmas Day. - On the phone I now greet the Romanian-German writer Richard Wagner, who left Romania for the Federal Republic of Germany after a work and publication ban in 1987, i.e. two years before the dramatic events, together with his wife at the time, this year's Nobel Prize winner for literature, Herta Müller. Good morning, Mr. Wagner.

Richard Wagner: Good Morning!

Spengler: Mr. Wagner, you were already in the West when the dictator was overthrown. What do you remember when you recall the pictures again?

Wagner: I remember that scene very well. It was macabre and hilarious at the same time to see this guy who ran half my life.

Spengler: Why did that mean half of your life?

Wagner: When he came to power in 1965, I was 13 years old, and when I left Romania, he was still in power and I was 35. During this time, in these last two years, we went on fought against it, against this dictatorship, in that we wanted to clarify in the West what it means, what is going on in Romania. And on that day, this feeling of seeing him suddenly shout "Hello", as if he could no longer make himself noticeable.

Spengler: I want to come back to that remark from you, it determined your life. What then distinguished the Ceausescu regime from the other dictatorships in the Eastern bloc?

Wagner: Yes, that was a major difference. When he started, he was considered a reformer in the 1960s, and then the whole thing turned into a family dictatorship. The big difference is that while in the other countries the system slowly deteriorated, lost its authority, had outlived itself, there was more of a chaos, here a restalinization was in progress. From the early 1970s on, by appropriating these Maoist rituals, he took China and Korea as his model, introduced this personality cult, surrounded himself with profiteers and family members, brought a clan to power, something unique that took place there and in the end it was a regime in which nothing moved. There was no organized opposition, no criticism, no public, in any way.

Spengler: And a regime in which the secret service has also spun very, very many threads, perhaps more than anywhere else, right?

Wagner: Yes of course. If within a totalitarian regime - that may sound paradoxical - a dictatorship is set up again, then it cannot refer to or rely on this system of party structure, but he had to set up his own Praetorian Guard, which again within the communist system for his own took care of his own safety and his advancement, and that was the Securitate. He did not rely on the party, but on the Securitate.

Spengler: Who exactly was then responsible for the execution of the Ceausescus? Was it a popular uprising or was it a coup?

Wagner: It was probably a mix of everything. There is a lot of speculation about that, still today. On the one hand it was a popular uprising and on the other hand this popular uprising had no leadership and therefore a coup was possible and it took place. That is, parts, interest groups from the Ceausescu system have just broken away and carried out the coup d'état for their own survival by taking over the leadership of the popular masses.

Spengler: Were you actually shocked when you saw the dictator and his wife who had been shot?

Wagner: I didn't enjoy these pictures, but I have to say that I fully understood what the population wanted. The population was in favor of them being executed. That one is doing a show trial, a sham trial - that cannot be called a trial; actually you could have done without the whole thing, you could have just shot him, but somehow you wanted to keep up appearances and then resorted to this solution and that is a historical embarrassment to this day.

Spengler: The population was in favor of such an execution because the population suffered a lot. Stronger than in other Eastern Bloc countries?

Wagner: Yes, that's just the way it is. The population was so sick of it all. You have to know how you lived in Romania. I myself had to spend three winters there without heating. One went in search of something to eat, so to speak. There was nothing there. Two hours of television programming in which only the dictator couple could be seen. It was terror, psychological terror, and people were so sick of it. The moment that authority was gone from this guy, they wanted him dead.

Spengler: Not only were the two dead, there were more than 1,000 deaths in total. To this day we don't know exactly by whom the people were actually murdered, just as we still don't know exactly what happened in those December days in Romania. Why don't you know that today?

Wagner: Well, because it's a mixed bag and those responsible cannot be named, but neither do they want to be named. There are so many confusing contexts and there are probably a lot of people among those responsible who were later in the power structures and still play a role in politics and economics today.

Spengler: What happened to the old Securitate elite?

Wagner: The Securitate are now very visible to many. They appear very bold and no longer have any problem with the fact that they were at the Securitate. They are in the economy, there are a few oligarchs, and such people are clearly visible in politics and also in the new secret service structures. The new secret service was founded by the old people and they are still there.

Spengler: Would you say that the country has arrived in the west today or still not?

Wagner: The country did not arrive in the west, but it is on the way there. It didn't get very far on this path, but it must be said that it is not the country from 20 years ago. It makes a difference to live under Ceausescu or in the current circumstances, and that has to be said.

Spengler: Mr Wagner, the case of the poet Werner Söllner, who had also worked for the Securitate secret service, but only recently admitted to it, recently became known. How far has the processing of these events, including the time of the dictatorship, happened in Romania?

Wagner: As far as coming to terms with the past is concerned, the whole thing is very bad and of course it has to do with these other political interests, but also with little meaning for this situation, i.e. for coming to terms with it. Especially, I have to say, there is very little interest among intellectuals right now. What makes the Söllner case so special is that it would have had 20 years to say something on its own. He has only now acknowledged where the files are on the table that concern him, and he had to fear that others would call him, and then he preferred to confess himself.

Spengler: And you? How do you feel? How comfortable do you feel here?

Wagner: I do not understand now.

Spengler: How did you get here in the west?

Wagner: Arrived? - Yes, I have felt part of this society here for a very long time. When I left Romania I did not go into exile in my own understanding; I am a writer who wrote German in Romania, one who belonged to the Banat Swabians, and I feel here as a Berlin writer for many years and as a German writer.

Spengler: The writer Richard Wagner on Deutschlandfunk. We talked about Romania 20 years after the fall of Ceausescu. Thank you, Mr. Wagner.

Wagner: Yes. Thank you!